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Christians in the Muslim World

Fasting and praying for peace in a refugee camp

“All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace … peace is a good which overcomes every barrier, because it belongs all of humanity!”. This humanity which the Pope referred to on September 1st, was based on precise faces in the refugee camp of Marj El Khokh where on September 7 Avsi and Oasis held a moment of reflection, silence, and prayer in answer to the Pope’s invitation and provocation. It had the faces of hundreds of families of Syrian refugees, who two years ago started arriving in this piece of stony land in southern Lebanon not far from the borders of Lebanon. They came from the Idlib region, a city in northern Syria, and settled here, to escape from a war that seemed to have reached its dramatic peak in these days.



Today in Marj El Khokh a thousand people live, 450 of which are children, many of whom had never been to school. They were already poor in Syria and here they are even more so. Avsi supports them in their daily life, with diverse projects. It supplies the everyday necessities, and promotes literacy courses for children, and many of their mothers, whose names and personal histories are all known, one by one. Some arrived here with obvious war wounds and all were awaiting a truce.



The tents are well organized, some surrounded by high red flowers which the women grow to have something beautiful, as they were used to doing in their own homes. They formed into groups which are often exclusive and violent. There is prostitution in the camp, and sometimes acts of violence, in and among the families, and among the children. But it is here, in this reality of tension and drama, that more than a hundred and fifty refugees, children and adults, men and women, participated in the simple gesture of the prayer for peace. It was presided over by the head of the local Sunni Muslim community, Jihad al-Saadi and Father Daniele Awike, Melkite parish priest of Marjeyoun.



A simple gesture: a boy, son of a local sheikh recited the brief sura 93, which teaches to help those in need. An Avsi volunteer then read the Pope’s appeal. In a brief moment of common silence each person prayed according to their own religious tradition, and it ended with the invocation “Mary, queen of peace, pray for us”.



Curiosity for the event was evident in the eyes of children and adults, as if they were perplexed by the strange gathering of people never seen in their camp and the common prayers which had never before taken place. They were used to seeing the Avsi workers, Marco, Chiara, Nicolò, Maria, Roni, but not so much the Christian priest and other people from the nearby villages who participated, and the soldiers sent to keep the situation under control, and also Oasis.



The collaboration between Avsi and Oasis was also something new. Avsi which is always been present in the camp for the most needy. Oasis created by Cardinal Scola to culturally sustain the Christian communities of the Muslim world and to promote meetings and dialogue between Christians and Muslims. Two different realities, but both encouraged by the same words of the Pope which, heard in the Middle East, are particularly intense.



In such a dramatic situation of refugees, who are far from home, it was a short encounter under the Lebanese sun, under the control of military satellites. It was a plea for peace, of great value because it was in communion with many other similar initiatives all around the world.